15 May, 2006

Parliament Hill

One of the reasons I chose to live so far out of the centre of London was to give myself a sense of space. I really wanted to try and avoid settling somewhere that felt closed in, be it by other houses, offices, tower blocks or just the sensation of suffocation that I know the heart of the capital can evoke.

Above all I wanted to be somewhere that allowed me to see the sky, to allow me a feeling of room if not immediately around me then most certainly way above me. I've been lucky enough to find it, I think, though living in London is all about the grisly art of compromise and what I've gained in choosing the outer suburbs I've lost in journey time into work and, more specifically, a flat that is high up - good - but not high enough to escape the extractor fans of the Chinese restaurant below - bad - nor, of course, the occasional outbursts of sound from my neighbours under the floor - even worse, but thankfully not as regular as I first feared.

I wanted to go somewhere this weekend which enhanced that feeling of space and which gave me a taste of the closest to fresh air which a sprawling metropolis can allow. So I headed for Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath, a place I have visited twice before in my life, once on a family outing a hundred or so years ago, again about ten years ago when I came to stay with my now elusive friend who shares a name with my boss.

From memory I knew it would make for a fantastic trip, but the reality proved somewhat less than agreeable. I got lost the minute I stepped onto Hampstead Heath, thanks in no small part to the absence of any signs or maps anywhere. I then contrived to walk twice as far as I needed to, ending up leaving the Heath way off target and having to double back in shame, discovering with stoical inevitably that the hill had only been about five minutes away all along.

The disappointment didn't stop there. Once I'd made it up, what is ordinarily a breathtaking view looking south right across the London skyline was almost completely obscured by a foul smog which hung, petulantly and persuasively, right across the horizon. I could make out the Telecom Tower, the dome of St Paul's and a couple of station terminals, but that was about it. I turned away, disheartened - to find myself staring straight into crumpled olive face of Bill Oddie. As if things couldn't get any worse.

Still, I felt reasonably invigorated for having tramped around the Heath regardless, and enjoyed mooching about Hampstead village afterwards, finding George Orwell's old house and the former residence of John Keats, tucked away in what could easily have passed as a country lane. It's these bits of London that I most like, i.e. the bits that don't look like London.

I'll go back to Parliament Hill on a sunny, clear day and make the most of what I know is an exceptional panorama down across the crowded, hemmed-in hub of the capital. And the rest of the Heath isn't that bad either, so long as you know where you're going, don't mind a blast of fresh air to clear out the soot of a hundred Underground journeys, and avoid bumping into C-list celebrities. And avoid bumping into Gobbler's Gulch. But then you knew that.


Post a Comment

<< Home